With the introduction of the Cannabis Act, bill C. 45, recreational cannabis is now legal in Canada. Luckily for the budding industry, the bill puts an end to the cannabis prohibition and regulates the production and sale of cannabis nationwide. It’s an incredibly exciting time for both brand new startups and organization that have been pushing for this day for years.
Before diving in headfirst, it’s important to keep in mind the restrictions around how cannabis brands can market their products and the implications to your marketing strategy. To help you, we’ve created this little guide to act as your cheat sheet to digital advertising in the era of legalized cannabis.
Here’s what you need to know about marketing your cannabis company:
C. 45: A Brief Overview
As mentioned above, the Cannabis Act, also known as C.45, ends the prohibition of cannabis in Canada. But the change in regulation also comes along with some very specific guidelines geared at:
Keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors;
Ensuring public safety with strict quality requirements and guidelines for production, sale and distribution; and
Establishing firm legal penalties for anyone operating a cannabis business outside of legally established guidelines
While the bill itself is as long and tedious as you would expect from a piece of legislation, there is one piece of particular concern for marketers:
“Advertising: prohibits any promotion, packaging and labelling of cannabis that could be appealing to young persons or encourage its consumption, while allowing consumers to have access to information with which they can make informed decisions about the consumption of cannabis;”
Sounds kind of general, right? Unfortunately, legislation has left a lot of uncertainty in this space and on top of that, advertising cannabis isn’t new and almost every advertising platforms has a policy on what’s acceptable within their individual policies.
So we did a little digging and created a straightforward, fluff-free cheat sheet to marketing that lovely little flower.
Cannabis Brands & Digital Advertising
Tip #1: Advertising Must Be Informational
Similar to the requirements of tobacco packaging, the Cannabis Act requires that advertising should also be subdued. This is in direct contrast to traditional advertising for other substances like alcohol which have leveraged “flashy and vibrant campaigns” for many decades and tobacco in its early days.
The idea behind this kind of advertising is to keep information about cannabis factual, and accessible to those seeking to use recreational cannabis without appealing to minors. But for cannabis companies, it means that they must get creative with their digital marketing strategies while remaining compliant with the new law.
Tip #2: Lead with SEO
While there are heavy restrictions on what can be explicitly communicated, there are no restrictions on what you can optimize your website for. We’re in the early days of a burgeoning market, so now is the time to plant your flag in the digital landscape and own the language that the masses will soon be using themselves.
At the moment, a bit of keyword research will show you that the most popular queries are around the basics.
What is THC?
How long does THC take to leave your system?
As cannabis goes fully mainstream, more sophisticated questions will generate more questions, and you should be prepared to cover a spectrum of questions, from terpenes, to strains and the various kinds of highs they provide; and even in to how certain products relieve medical symptoms - that’s the website that will come out on top.
The trick is, per advertising policies, you can’t talk about this stuff directly now, but that won’t last forever, so how do you position yourself to get a leg up on the future of cannabis content?
Tip #3: Define Your Target Market for the Future
As with any form of advertising, it’s important to know where you fit into the market. Who is your target customer and what is your brand’s key value proposition that will resonate with them? Cannabis is fun and fresh right now, but the goal is to think ahead a few years about what kind of space your brand will occupy. Are you a luxury product for a sophisticated market, or constantly rotating a limited supply of 60+ strains every month? When the industry settles, having this nailed down will be key.
For any brand, the demographics will have the same foundation: age and location. The audience will have to be above 19 years in age and based in Canada but then brands can get creative on how to differentiate within those constraints.
Tip #4: Create a Solid UX
Finally, whether on your website or a landing page, you want to offer the best user experience possible. For cannabis vendors, we recommend incorporating the following:
Age verification: Regulators are going to be watching you like hawks, so give them a nod. To avoid ‘appealing to young people,’ use a strategy that includes age verification to gain access to your website.
Locations and store-finders: People want to know where to buy, so this is an important consideration. Is your product only available online or in-store? Using geo-location services can help your customers access your product.
Define conversions: In digital, a conversion simply means a completed action such as adding a product to a shopping cart, joining an e-newsletter mailing list or filling out a contact form. We expect user behavior to change quickly over the coming months, so make sure to track as much of it as possible.
Note: For cannabis brands, product purchase conversions will be complex, as the end user will need to either go to a brick and mortar store, or a government website to make a purchase. So brands need to decide what the most important conversion is for their brand - is it driving users to a store location page? Is it sending them to a government site where competitors are listed? Or is it capturing contact info for nurturing campaigns? Whatever you decide, you will want to make the effort to tie your website conversions as closely to sales as possible.
As the legal cannabis landscape evolves, so too will the way brands approach marketing. Making big predictions at this stage is pointless, so focus on keeping your space unproblematic, with a focus on consistently catering to your target audience.
There will be limitations on social media for some time, but there is still value in growing audience on social platforms and keeping the conversation open. Even though what a cannabis company can say on their website will be limited for some time, it will be critical to remain focused on SEO, UX and tracking so you can respond when opportunities do arise.
For now, the advertising cannabis is hobbled by legislation, but we don’t know what the future will bring. In the meantime, stay green Canada :)